Ambassador Spotlight: Quimet the Shy Baby

This week we are excited to spotlight Summer Ambassador Quimet and her people, Jen and Adam! Quimet's people were one of the first supporters of High Tail Hikes when we put out our product line last summer. Since then I have gotten to know Jen and have admired Quimet from afar. Quimet is a shy girl who landed with a wonderful family, and I'm thrilled that they were willing to share about their journey. Enjoy!

Thank you for chatting with us Jen and Adam! First off, can you tell us a bit about Quimet - how and when she came into your life, what kind of dog she is, and a bit about her personality?  

Quimet was a pandemic pup, but it wasn’t on a whim or because we were suddenly working from home, though that definitely helped! She was a stray in Central California and was brought to the Bay Area by a local rescue organization. The rescue thought she was a beagle and staffordshire terrier mix, but Embark says she’s actually half boxer and a mix of mini poodle, pit bull, cocker spaniel, and shih tzu. Outside of the house, she can be skittish and avoidant. When nervous, she’ll try to hide in the car or under anything she can find. At home she’s a goofy gal who’s very vocal about when it’s time to stop working and start playing. She’ll whine, grunt, and paw at us for attention and we oblige every single time because there was a time she wanted nothing to do with us.

Did you have dogs growing up? What made you decide that you wanted to adopt a dog? 

Growing up, Adam had a cocker spaniel named Buddy and for me (Jen), Quimet is my first! I’ve wanted a dog my whole life, but my brother was allergic and we weren’t allowed to have pets in our previous apartments.

What was the process like of adopting Quimet? Any tips for others who are thinking about rescuing/adopting a dog? 

We applied for dozens of dogs and only heard back about one - Quimet (named Opal at the time). We ended up taking her to get spayed and when we picked her up, the vet asked if we knew she was pregnant - we didn’t! Because of this her recovery took a little longer. It was a whirlwind week and we were in way over our heads. I’d highly recommend finding a rescue that does its homework and actually understands the dog’s personality before handing them over. We’re very lucky that Quimet fits in well with our lifestyle and the amount of effort we were willing to put in with her, but she could’ve easily gone to someone else who wouldn’t be so patient.

When you adopted Quimet, did you understand the extent of how shy/nervous she was? Is that something you were looking for, or were you looking for a more social dog? 

Not in the slightest. She was very scared when we first met her. When we picked her up, she kept trying to crawl into her foster mom’s car, so we had to force her to leave with us. We thought that it would take a while for her to decompress and that eventually she’d relax, but we soon found out she was anxious all the time. I don’t think I had any idea of the range of sociability dogs can have, so I thought all dogs were social “everywhere” dogs. I learned that this wasn’t the case very quickly, and the first few months involved a lot of research about anxious dogs. 

What were the first few weeks/months like after you adopted Quimet? How did you have to adjust your lifestyle and expectations to help her feel more comfortable? 

They were so hard! It’s very lonely to be a guardian of a dog who seems stressed by your very existence. Her tail was always straight down or tucked and she seemed very concerned about everything around her. We learned to warn her before making sudden noises and tried to make our movements as predictable as possible. Now at the end of the workday, she and I will walk upstairs together to “pick up” Adam from the office, so she sees when he comes downstairs and won’t get startled by him. We also never take her to public “human” places like the pet store or any restaurants. I always imagined taking my dog to the office or coffee shop - but that will probably never happen!

At what point did you decide to work with a positive reinforcement trainer, and why?  

I didn’t know anything about the different training styles, I just knew I didn’t want to use a prong collar or an e-collar on my dog. I didn’t want to spray my dog in the face or shake coins at her, I just wanted to be nice to her. As Quimet got more comfortable at home, it became clear that she found Adam very intimidating and she would actively avoid him. I found Reddit posts when I searched “dog is fearful of one partner but not the other," and they were full of stories that I could relate to, but there was no real advice on how to help. We worked with a kind, positive reinforcement trainer based on our neighbor’s recommendation, but it didn’t seem like she was addressing the root cause of Quimet’s feelings.

Once Quimet discovered her very loud, very shrill voice, we knew we had to invest more time and effort so we could all live together. Quimet would bark and growl at Adam if he sat at the dining table, if he moved around in a way she didn’t like, or if he surprised her at all. It was clear we needed professional help and it wasn’t something that would solve itself, which is where Ali came in!

Tell us what it was like working with Ali (Up to Snuff). Any advice for those thinking of hiring a trainer?

Ali and I had been following each other on Instagram for awhile when she started accepting clients, so she was already familiar with our journey and what struggles we were working on. Our sessions were mostly virtual, because if Ali was in the room with us, Quimet would have just been concerned about a stranger’s presence. Through Zoom, we were able to work on Quimet’s big feelings about Adam and give her agency to let him know when he could approach. She helped us realize that something in the environment was triggering Quimet and it was our job to work through it. We started tracking all the times Quimet barked uncontrollably at Adam: what happened right before and what actions got her to calm down. Some days we had 3 or more episodes, and it was a very draining time for all of us. There wasn’t a sudden improvement until one day, I realized we’d stopped logging anything in our spreadsheet. She hadn’t barked in a week, a month, or more. She still barks occasionally but nothing like she did before, and it’s usually after high-stress days or when she’s over-tired.

When looking for a trainer, I’d suggest combing through their website and Instagram posts to ensure their methods align with what you’re looking for. If it makes you feel icky at all, keep looking!

Check out our blog interview with Ali Sutch - owner of Up to Snuff and also a High Tail Hikes Ambassador.

Tell us about some of the things that you've done to help build Quimet's confidence at home or in the world. 

We stopped taking Quimet out in the neighborhood and only do decompression walks on a long line, run around empty fields, or go on off-leash hikes. Her nervousness meant she always stuck close to me so I used that to my advantage to work on her recall. This freedom allows her to choose the amount of distance she needs from triggers. Long lines also help us achieve this if we’re close to a road or in an on-leash area. I’ve also taken a page out of Ali’s book and worked on getting Quimet comfortable enough to jump up other surfaces when we’re out on walks. We’ve done slow introductions and parallel walks with other dogs who are more confident and she’s picked up behaviors from them. We’re also slowly exposing her to more situations at a pace that works for her.

Read our blog article about long lines here and about choosing the right size/length for a long line here

Quimet in her happy place - a big open grassy field

In what ways have you had to be an advocate for Quimet, and what have some of the challenges been there? Any advice for other shy dog guardians about how to advocate for their dog? 

This is still hit-or-miss for me! Due to Quimet’s puppy-like appearance, she gets a lot of attention from people and dogs alike. When others would approach Quimet and she was clearly uncomfortable, it was hard for me to speak up in the beginning. Now we actively move away from everyone or I’ll say that she’s nervous. We had one experience with an off-leash dog who bombarded us, nipped at me, and followed us out of the park into the middle of the street. I scolded the owner when she finally grabbed hold of her dog and from then on, I’ve had a stronger voice when it comes to advocating for more space. If we’re in a new spot, I’ll wear a Woofcultr shirt that says “My dog doesn’t want to say hi” because it gives a clear signal that we want to be left alone. We also have a leash wrap that says “Anxious dog. Please give us space.”

My advice would be to manage the situation as best as you can. If your dog is nervous around people and/or dogs, try not to take them anywhere that would be crowded. On trails, we’ll pull off to the side if people are nearby, letting them know that we don’t want to interact. And of course, always have treats ready! Sometimes I’ll throw a treat to distract an oncoming dog and we’re able to make our escape!

What have been the biggest challenges, and biggest rewards, of bringing Quimet into your life? 

Her feelings about Adam are complicated and it stressed us out for months. Every chore became exponentially more difficult because she’d be barking so loudly and I was the only one who could manage it. It was frustrating and isolating having your dog scream “get the f out of my house” (I’m paraphrasing) at your partner and everyone was blowing off our concerns saying that she just wanted to play. Others were doling out well-meaning but ultimately frustrating advice based on their own experiences with dogs or outdated tips from TV. It felt like we were failing as dog parents because she wasn’t a carefree dog who loved everyone.

However, gaining Quimet’s trust and being her person is the biggest privilege of my life. While she still has conflicted feelings about Adam, her barking has decreased a lot and she’s gotten very affectionate with him. It was heartbreaking to watch her be so scared around someone who loves her, so it’s been really rewarding to see her open up little by little. We savor every time she plays or wags her tail, especially outdoors! We don’t take any of the “normal” dog behaviors for granted and we try to encourage them as much as possible.

Happy Quimet. 

What are some of Quimet's fun personality quirks? 

A true trash enrichment fan, Quimet loves shredding and will snatch paper out of my hand if I’m not paying attention. She’ll boof and do a bunch of default behaviors if you’re cutting up food she wants. She’s got a variety of different noises ranging from whines to grunts in order to get our attention. Lastly, she’s proven to be quite the hunter -- she’s dug up a vole and caught flies in mid-air. 

Tell us about being part of the Instagram dog community.

I started Quimet’s Instagram as a place to share cute pictures of her and follow other cute dogs, but it’s morphed into so much more. It was exhausting to explain to friends why Quimet wasn’t coming along or why they couldn't meet her (pandemic notwithstanding) or that they needed to ignore her the entire time. Through Instagram, I found people who understood. When we got the dogs together, I didn’t have to apologize or explain Quimet’s behavior. Everyone knew to avert their gaze, didn’t expect Quimet to approach them, and vice versa. They didn’t add any pressure for my dog to be sociable and friendly. It took a lot of weight off my shoulders because they were also in the same boat.

What made you decide to become a High Tail Hikes ambassador? 

We first stumbled on High Tail Hikes gear when we saw them hanging in the Dog Social Club entrance area and then discovered it’s a local woman-owned business so I was immediately smitten! And just a tidbit about me - I hate paying for shipping out of principle, so being able to pick up our orders sweetened the deal. And Liz has been so helpful whenever I asked for tips or needed to tweak a product to fit Quimet just right. We are so grateful for the local R+ community and High Tail Hikes is such a big part of it. It really helps to have a network of other dog lovers who have the same level of commitment to treating our dogs well.

What are some of your favorite High Tail Hikes products and how have they helped you? 

I always reach for our 20’ long line with a handle for decompression walks. It’s the perfect length to give Quimet plenty of freedom, but it’s not too much leash for me to manage. Giving her lots of space has helped with her confidence and she’s much more eager to explore. It also helps us show that being leashed doesn’t mean the fun ends so she’s never resisted being leashed (by me at least). We also love our Sport Collar! We’ve retired all her other fabric collars because biothane is so much more practical.

Quimet sporting her High Tail Hikes long line and Sport Collar.

 Thank you so much for sharing with us! 

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